Race File


By Gordon Hurd Sep 15, 2002

Using righteous battle cries for "independence" and "empowerment," a coalition of San Fernando Valley business owners and residents are attempting the ultimate form of white flight with a ballot initiative this November to break off the Valley from Los Angeles County.

Secession in Los Angeles has been a racially-infused topic for over 20 years, with continuous support from conservative and middle-class ranks. The forces that fought to split the Valley along racial lines back in the 1970s are the same folks who fought against busing and who rallied around the Jarvis camp for Proposition 13. And they have kept the secession flag waving up to the inclusion on this year’s ballot. The secession movement is basically a "last resistance of a constituency afraid of a majority minority city," says Marqueece Harris Dawson, associate director of Community Coalition, based in south-central Los Angeles.

Despite its legacy, the secession campaign is being proclaimed as a colorblind effort. A recent New York Times article, for example, claims that "the era of white flight is long gone," and places heavy emphasis on polls showing that a high percentage of Latinos in the San Fernando Valley support the idea of secession. "Even if Valley Latinos go along with secession," says Dawson, "it doesn’t mean it isn’t a race issue."

Much of the steam for the secession campaign comes from business leaders in the Valley, especially from the real estate sector. However, nestled within the money and power brokers involved in the fight are traditionally right-wing leaders, who apparently hope to create a bastion for conservatism away from a city they believe to be plagued by liberalism.

One of the most visible supporters is Valley businessman Bert Boeckmann, who the LA Weekly calls "one of the most unabashedly ideological and conservative of the secessionists." Owner of the area’s most successful auto dealerships, his political activities have included Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign and membership in the Christian Coalition. Boeckmann has helped raise over $500,000 for Valley VOTE, the organization primarily responsible for getting secession on the ballot.

Airlines Charged with Racial Profiling

"Those brown-skinned men are behaving suspiciously" is a statement Edgardo Cureg and Michael Dasrath aren’t likely to forget. The two men were both ejected from a flight this past New Year’s Eve after a fellow passenger spoke the above words to a member of the crew.

Cureg, a permanent U.S. resident from the Philippines, Dasrath, a U.S. citizen originally from Guyana, and three other men have simultaneously filed lawsuits against Continental, American, Northwest, and United Airlines. Coordinating their cases are the ACLU and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), as well as a private law firm, Relman Associates in Washington, D.C.

Despite all the customary cries for vigilance over security, what the details of these men’s situations reveal is that security is arguably not the issue. In the case of Cureg and Dasrath, they were in fact put onto different flights without undergoing any further security checks. As ACLU National Staff Attorney Reginald Shuford says, the airlines are being charged in with "elevating the concerns of non-brown skinned people," namely those passengers, white or otherwise, who don’t feel comfortable flying with members of other races because of their own biases and ignorance.

Effectively empowering the racism and favoring the privilege of certain passengers over the civil rights of everyone is dangerous ground for airlines to tread upon. Since September 11, the Department of Transportation has been explicit in its warnings against racial profiling in the nation’s airways.

Aside from the central theme of racism, a key issue brought forth by these lawsuits is that airlines seem to be passing undue responsibilities onto their pilots and crew. Should flight crews be charged with the task of ensuring the security of their flights? Can they do that task with proper judgment and without violating civil rights laws? Says Shuford, "It’s unfair to passengers and to crew to allow these ‘security’ decisions to be left to untrained pilots and crew."